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One of the most potentially explosive pieces of opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of defence was published on Feb. 7. Breitbart.com’s Ben Shapiro reported that according to Senate sources, Hagel had not turned over documents to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Hagel’s “foreign funding” because one of the groups was called “Friends of Hamas.”
It sounded a bit preposterous, so Slate’s Dave Weigel looked into the group last week and found that, in short, the group does not and never did exist.
Now it looks like the origin of the group was a joke between New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman and a source. Friedman detailed his role in the spread of the rumour today:
On Feb. 6, I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did Hagel’s Senate critics know of controversial groups that he had addressed?
Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the “Junior League of Hezbollah, in France”? And: What about “Friends of Hamas”?
The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organisations with those names existed — let alone that a former senator would speak to them.
The next day, the story about “Friends of Hamas” popped up on Breitbart. Shapiro wrote that the White House hung up on him when he called to ask about the allegation, supporting his claim that it did not deny the allegation.
“The story as reported is correct. Whether the information I was given by the source is correct I am not sure,” Shapiro told Friedman today.
It even reached somewhat mainstream level when conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Sen. Rand Paul about it:
HH: Well, let’s stay focused on Friends Of Hamas. Obviously, that would be a support group for a terrorist organisation. Can you imagine voting or not filibustering anyone who’d received support from supporters of a terrorist organisation?
RP: Like I say, it’s very troubling. And I’ve just seen the press report, so I’m going to have to look at what the response is, what the group is, and that kind of thing. But it is very concerning.
UPDATE (12:01 p.m.): In a post responding to Friedman, Shapiro defended his original reporting. He also denied Friedman’s claim that he was the original source of the material. Here’s part of what he wrote:
Since the original “Friends of Hamas” story was written, the media has downplayed or ignored the myriad of borderline anti-Semitic Hagel comments regarding Iran and the State of Israel, as well as the “Jewish lobby.” They have deliberately obstructed news coverage of Hagel’s well-documented supported base among friends of Hamas. Instead of asking Hagel to release the requested documents, the media has attacked Breitbart News.
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